Today's Memory

Ralph Ellison’s birthday

Ralph Ellison’s birthday

Ralph Ellison’s birthday

Originally shared by The Cloberth

“If the word has the potency to revive and make us free, it has also the power to blind, imprison, and destroy.”

Highly Visible

Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on this date in 1914, American author Ralph Ellison. 

It would seem Ellison’s future was set when his father, whose wish was that his son would become a poet, named him Ralph Waldo, after the 19th century essayist and lecturer. At the age of nineteen, Ellison entered the Tuskegee Institute to study music. It was there that he became interested in the modernist classics, T.S. Elliot in particular.

in 1937, he moved to New York City, studying visual arts and befriending members of that community, including Richard Wright, who suggested that writing would be Ellison’s best pursuit. Over the following seven years, he wrote a few dozen book reviews and did publishing and editing for the Communist Party presses. Disillusioned with the party and the bourgeoisie, after the war ended, Ellison began working on his masterpiece, Invisible Man. Published in 1952, Invisible Man deals specifically with the struggle of African Americans to find their way in American society. Critical acclaim was followed, in 1953, by the National Book Award for Fiction, and a place in literary circles. From then on, he used his writing as a platform to discuss moral issues. Throughout the fifties and sixties, while involved with the Civil Rights movement, and teaching literature at Bard College, he would produce and publish two series of essays with this goal in mind. Despite early fame, Ellison only followed with two other novels, one of which remained unfinished at his death, the other published posthumously.

Ellison received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1970, was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1975, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1985.

A 1966 interview with Ellison:

A June 1952 review of Invisible Man by Saul Bellow:

Essay, timeline, and clips from The American Masters episode about Ellison:

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